Grand Challenges in Sustainable Food Processing (2022)

Sustainability is, unquestionably, a main driver for social, technological, and economic development toward the creation of a circular economy. This is even more important in the food industry as this issue of sustainability also demands that we are able to provide consumers with, not only high quality food, but, above all with food that complies with safety and security.

WHO estimates that, every year, more than 600 million people—this means 1 out of 10 people—get ill by ingestion of contaminated food and that the number of casualties is estimated as 420,0001. Moreover FAO estimates that one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year (FAO, 2011). This inevitably also means that huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain. It is also interesting to note that, on a per-capita basis, much more food is wasted in the industrialized world than in developing countries.

Having said this, it is clear that sustainability (Ehrenfeld and Hoffman, 2013) is a key driver for the food industry. However, a successful food industry sector, cannot be supported by safety and security considerations, only. Consumers are more and more demanding and, in particular in developed countries, are also linking food with health, thus demanding food industry and food technologists to provide foods that, in complement to their nutritional and organoleptic properties, can also contribute to a healthier life.

Although suggesting that these issues raise difficulties in fulfilling the consumer needs, it is also clear that new business opportunities are created and, as shown throughout this document, opportunities for raising value from wastes are now a great challenge that will also contribute for the development of healthier foods as well as for the implementation of a circular economy in the sector.

In order to answer satisfactorily to these demands, the food industry must evolve processing technologies that are effective not only in processing food materials in a way that minimizes the degradation of the components that are relevant for health and well-being, but are also able to incorporate materials in the processed foods that allow for an increase in these properties.

Moreover, these objectives must be fulfilled by complying with another key issue in food (and industrial) processing—sustainability—in such way that circular economy2 becomes a reality in the food industry. This demands more efficient and environmentally friendly food processing technologies and process integration together with waste minimization and recovery and incorporation of food by-products in the food processing chain. New solutions on packaging are also required as 335 million tons of non-biodegradable/non-compostable plastics are produced annually, with the food sector being responsible for a large percentage of the release of these wastes (mostly plastics)3. With the new solutions being proposed, food packaging will extend its use beyond its traditional application and will have a decisive contribution to answering several of the challenges of the food sector.

Safety is also an issue that must be dealt with the development of more efficient processing technologies. Processing must comply with extremely rigorous food safety challenges and this demands the development of rapid and high throughput safety evaluation techniques for effective risk management in the food industry.

It is clear that the main issue(s)/challenge(s) facing the field of Sustainable Food Processing today are:

- development of efficient and environmentally friendly food processing technologies

(Video) Global challenges for sustainable food production

- process integration as a key to more efficient and environmental friendly food processing

- wastes minimization

- recovery and incorporation of food by-products in the food processing chain

- incorporation of materials/compounds relevant for well-being

- development of efficient technologies for the adequate delivery (i.e., maintain the bioactivity) of the nutrients to the food consumer

- evaluation and development of correct strategies for the use of wastes and by products generated throughout the food value chain with the Circular Economy concept.

- development of new packaging materials and new packaging formulations that are environment friendly, as fully consumed or biodegradable and recyclable

- development of new packaging solutions that will act not only as a protection barrier but will also be active and intelligent.

- implementation and development and implementation of precise and fast food safety evaluation methodologies

(Video) Sustainable Food Security for 11B: THE Millennial Grand Challenge | Ronnie Green | TEDxLincoln

- immediacy on the response to the consumer's demand

- assumption that food is a key issue on individual's health and development of food processing methodologies that are consumer groups oriented (elderly people, pregnant women, children)

- food personalization

All these challenges demand the industry to be in the frontline of knowledge and Sustainable Food Processing wants to make an effective contribution on this and become a reference source for scientists, academy, industrial, and other professionals engaged in food processing.

The section will highlight the current knowledge regarding the most recent innovations on emerging technologies and strategies based on food design on a sustainable level. Innovative technologies are expected to be described, characterized, and its application highlighted. These will include emerging technologies, sensor technology, cold plasma technology, sustainable packaging and refrigeration climate control, non-thermal pasteurization and sterilization, nano- and micro-technology, healthy product composition, development of novel preservation alternatives, extending the shelf life of fresh products, alternative processes requiring less energy or water, plant-based meat alternatives, innovative processes/bioprocesses for utilization of by-products and information and knowledge transfer.

Although being clear that different technologies can have a significant impact in the development of a Sustainable Food Processing, there is no doubt that nanotechnology will be a key driver on the answer to several of the food industry challenges presented. However, the increasing concern about human produced nano-particles entering the environmental and being detrimental to living systems (including humans) must not be forgotten as relevant sustainability issues can be raised (Jurgilevich et al., 2016).

Nanotechnology is a fast-developing tool, with applications in virtually all areas of scientific and technological research. The advantages and impact of the nanotechnology-based systems are very significant, justifying the growing attention from both academy and industry. It is thus not surprising that also food & agricultural engineers, scientists and technologists are dedicating their attention to nanotechnology, in the search for specific advantages in agriculture, foods formulation, and processing.

In particular, the applications related with e.g., nanoencapsulation of functional ingredients are seen as very promising. This is not an easy task, though: on top of the difficulties inherent to nanotechnology (e.g., finding adequate characterization methods, quantification of products, etc.), there are two other issues which may dictate the success or failure of the research and development efforts in this area: (1) ingredients must be either bio-compatible or food-grade and (2) safety of the consumers & environment must be guaranteed. If these two issues are not conveniently addressed, no industrialist will be available to even consider using nanotechnological solutions in the products of the company. The production of and characterization of nanotechnology-based structures, their applications and safety concerns are therefore hot topics that must be addressed by the scientific community and be one of the main topics to be included in this journal.

Packaging is also, as mentioned before, a relevant topic to be considered within Sustainable Food Processing, due to the high amounts of non-recyclable plastics being disposed. However, it is clear that sustainability is to be addressed not only by solving the issues related with the development of biodegradable packaging materials. The development of edible films and coatings will contribute decisively to extend the functions to be played by packaging in the food industry. Edible packaging, apart from being environment friendly and so reduce the waste and solid disposal problem, are fully consumed or biodegradable and in this way its contribution to sustainable food processing is obvious. However, its functions are to be extended and may include the enhancement of food organoleptic properties and nutritional value, act as a carrier for anti-microbial or antioxidant agents and be used as a matrix for the micro encapsulation of flavoring agents.

(Video) The challenges of sustainable food packaging – get the full picture

The new packaging are to be active and intelligent and this can also be achieved by adding some of these functions to already available materials. Moreover, by-products from the food processing industry can be applied in the development of these materials.

Finally, it is important to highlight the importance of the development and implementation of a circular economy in the food industry. Although being clear that there are an increasing number of papers describing the recovery and incorporation of food by-products in the food processing chain, there are still numerous challenges to be addressed. These challenges are both on the application of the obtained products on the food chain (although its use on other industrial sectors must be considered) and on the extraction/separation/purification technologies to be applied. Nowadays, most of the technologies applied are still largely based on energy, solvent and water-intensive processes and have a low energy efficiency. For instance, the solid-liquid extraction step is mostly based on the use of organic solvents what raises concerns on environmental safety, human toxicity and sometimes financial feasibility. Novel technologies based on the use of greener and higher efficiency solvents (ionic liquids, deep eutectic solvents) or the use of aqueous extraction processes intensified by the application of pressure and electric fields are alternatives that are being developed.

Considering the statements made previously, the publication of Sustainable Food Processing (specialty section of Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems) will be an important contribution for the technological development of the food industry. Innovative and cutting-edge research will be published in the following subjects: novel technologies for food processing and preservation, functional foods, active and functional packaging, process integration in food processing, novel technologies for food waste and by-product processing, food waste and by-products for the production of bioactives, food processing for increased food safety, food processing for healthier and more nutritive products, personalized food and risk management in food processing.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer, JF, and handling Editor declared their shared affiliation.


This work was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under the scope of the strategic funding of UID/BIO/04469/2013 unit and COMPETE 2020 (POCI-01- 0145-FEDER-006684) and BioTecNorte operation (NORTE-01-0145-FEDER-000004) funded by European Regional Development Fund under the scope of Norte2020 e Programa Operacional Regional do Norte.


1. ^WHO (2017).

(Video) Ensuring sustainable food production by David Talaga

2. ^

3. ^


Ehrenfeld, J. R., and Hoffman, A. J. (2013). Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Google Scholar

FAO (2011). Global Food Losses and Food Waste – Extent, Causes and Prevention. Rome: FAO.

Jurgilevich, A., Birge, T., Kentala-Lehtonen, J., Korhonen-Kurki, K., Pietikäinen, J., Saikku, L., et al. (2016). Transition towards circular economy in the food system. Sustainability 8:69. doi: 10.3390/su8010069

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

(Video) Grand Challenge 1 - Future of Food


What are the challenges to sustainable food production? ›

There are several critical issues that challenge food system performance: (a) rapid urbanisation and the growth of megacities, (b) requirements for agro-food systems upgrading, and (c) management of food access, distribution and price through rural-urban linkages.

How food is one of the main problems of sustainable development? ›

However, numerous studies have shown that the food supply chain is jeopardising their functioning: it is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), unsustainable water extraction and pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss.

What is sustainability in food processing? ›

Sustainable food production is “a method of production using processes and systems that are non-polluting, conserve non-renewable energy and natural resources, are economically efficient, are safe for workers, communities and consumers, and do not compromise the needs of future generations” [3].

How can we help sustainable food production? ›

9 Ways to Support Sustainable Food
  1. Start your own garden (and raise your own chickens for eggs). ...
  2. Make your own organic soil. ...
  3. Eat local and organic. ...
  4. Close the loop. ...
  5. Join a local food club. ...
  6. Eat less meat, more veggies. ...
  7. Involve children. ...
  8. Volunteer with a sustainable farm or food justice organization.

What are the sustainability issues related to food? ›

Namely, natural capital degradation, biodiversity loss, production-related ill-health, diet-related disease and imported foods,” she said. Intensive modern agriculture has led to biodiversity loss and degradation of soil health, which in turn leads companies to use more chemical fertilisers and pesticides on crops.

How can the challenges of sustainable development be overcome? ›

This is Expert Verified Answer
  1. Measures for overcoming the challenges of Sustainable development goals are as follows:
  2. Technology:
  3. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle:
  4. Improving Quality of Life:
  5. Promoting Environmental Education and Awareness:
  6. Resource Utilization:
Jan 18, 2021

What are the problems and challenges of implementation of sustainable development? ›

The main challenges to sustainable development which are global in character include poverty and exclusion, unemployment, climate change, conflict and humanitarian aid, building peaceful and inclusive societies, building strong institutions of governance, and supporting the rule of law.

What are the benefits of sustainable food practices on the environment and the community? ›

Here are a few pros of sustainable eating:
  • Decreases food budget. ...
  • Establishes meaningful connections. ...
  • Enhances cooking skills. ...
  • Increases opportunities to engage with other members of the local community. ...
  • Supports farmers. ...
  • Reduces expenditure. ...
  • Supports the local economy. ...
  • Contributes globally.
Jun 1, 2021

Why is sustainability important in the food industry? ›

Partaking in sustainable food practices ensures your business or home has a low environmental impact. Sustainable food aims to avoid damaging or wasting natural resources. It minimises the contribution to climate change as it often means eating more local food which is not transported too far.

Rising incomes, rapid urbanisation and growing middle classes lead to strong adjustments in dietary preferences and consumer behaviour and require public and private investments for improved food market integration.. The most common food system is the agro-industrial, or ‘modern’, food system acting on a global scale, dominated by a few multinational corporations through vertical integration, composed by complex, industry-driven sub-systems with long supply chains, consolidating inputs, processing and food retail, involving mainly processed foods channelled through large supermarket chains, restaurants and catering.. A scenario analysis addressing the future of food systems globally, developed by the World Economic Forum and its partners in the 2017 ‘Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems’ report, outlines four key aspirations for future-proof food systems:. The growing attention to food system inclusiveness and sustainability as global issues is a useful complement to common conceptions of food security that address issues of access, quality, utilisation of food and stability of food supply.. There are several critical issues that challenge food system performance: (a) rapid urbanisation and the growth of megacities, (b) requirements for agro-food systems upgrading, and (c) management of food access, distribution and price through rural-urban linkages.. Responses to the new urbanising geography of food security are emerging at the local level, particularly in emerging economies, where municipal governments are recasting themselves as food system innovators.. This is also related to value-addition along local and regional food value chains, contributing to employment creation, linking urban consumers’ food demand with dynamic and more sustainable (sub)regional food systems.. Agro-food sector transformation.. Innovative partnerships.

Processing facilities are a missing link between local food and new markets, however, they face a double challenge: that of matching local production, high fixed operating costs and demand for local products. When thinking about opening new processing facilities for local food, it is necessary to carry out a full value chain assessment first.

Processing facilities are a missing link between local food and new markets.. They face a double challenge: that of matching local production, high fixed operating costs and demand for local products.. When thinking about opening new processing facilities for local food, it is necessary to carry out a full value chain assessment first.. In a chapter of a book dedicated to regional food systems, Lauren Gwin, from Oregon State University (United States) and Nick McCann, from Michigan State University (USA), delve into the economic reality of food processors.. It is a key activity in the food chain, yet it has not received much attention in research or in local food policies, as these often focus on short chains for raw food items.. Processing facilities are a missing link between local food and new markets.. When food is processed, it can be kept longer, it can reach customers that do not have the space or time to cook – such as schools, and, more broadly, institutions –, and it can transform surplus food into new products, hence preventing waste.. For all these reasons, food policy should pay attention to processing facilities as an important part of local food systems.. When serving local farmers, these facilities face a double challenge: that of matching local production – that is often small scale – with:. On the one hand, the high fixed costs of operating a processing facility, On the other hand, demand for such products.. For instance, the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center sources both local, more expensive, green beans and larger volumes coming from larger, mechanized farms in Maine.. One of the case studied, the Mad River Food Hub, in Vermont, provides processing facilities, storage for frozen product, distribution and technical assistance.. This will help actors, including local authorities, better understand if a new facility is needed, and at what scale (regional or local).

Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will be an enormous challenge. In many circles when people talk about feeding the world in 2050, the focus is almost exclusively on increasing food production. How can we do what we’re already doing better?

I’m going to present you with a very different perspective on this issue, because in fact the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050 has as much to do with how our global agricultural markets are constructed as it does with increasing production.. In 2005, the World Bank estimated there that there are about 1.5 billion people in the world living in poverty—we can be sure that number is much higher now.. So, better prices for farmers would help to reduce poverty because agricultural development is the key basis for growth of developing country economies.. Then in 2007-08, and again last January, global food prices hit record highs, and those countries were priced out of the market.. In just the last year, we saw nearly 20 percent of the U.S., primarily in the south, under extreme or exceptional drought.. We need to support the ability of food insecure countries to build—and, in many cases rebuild—their own food systems.. This is something that was endorsed by over 60 countries as part of an international assessment of agriculture a few years ago, led by the World Bank and the U.N.. The huge corn and soybean farms in Iowa or Brazil are not models that work everywhere.. Trying to impose this model in developing countries may not produce more food, and even when it does, it may not feed more people.. By 2050, we will need our policies, both in U.S. farm policy and at the international level, to reflect what we know about which foods are healthy and which are not.. Finally, we are going to need a much more effective and democratic system of global institutions.. As I have explained, feeding the world requires action on a number of pressing global issues: better regulation of trade, investment and financial markets; climate change; and multilateral support to build sustainable food systems in the developing world.. Rebuilding a strong, democratic and effective system of international institutions will be essential if we are to build the kind of food system we need, from the local level to globally, by 2050.. As you may have guessed, I believe that feeding 9 billion people by 2050 is primarily a policy challenge, rather than just a technological challenge.

The F&B industry is set to face stimulating challenges in the face of the pandemic, including the increasing health consciousness among the masses, rise in the veganism trend, the sudden surge in single-use plastics since the pandemic, & a rapidly changing regulations.

The drastic reduction in the demand for processed foods has fueled the organic food market, increasing awareness levels regarding natural foods and their positive health impact.. The dramatic no-show of consumers from the ‘center of store’ aisle products also demonstrates that consumers prefer to stay away from packaged goods, which is why brainstorming strategies to combat the increasing demand for organic products is one of the major challenges faced by food and beverage managers today.. In August 2019, nine Japanese companies vowed to end testing on animals, post discussions with the PETA U.S. Manufacturing products that vouch for animal safety has become one of the prime challenges for food and beverage industry, as food manufacturers must maintain their reputation with regards to ethical treatment of animal concern.. Most companies are known to perfunctorily adhere to the norms; despite that, the periodic changes subject to waste disposal, food quality, raw material, surplus production, documentation, etc., have cropped up to be one of the major challenges faced by food and beverage managers.. The demand for enhanced inventory management software in food processing, canning goods, and packaging products forms a vital part of the challenges of food and beverage market, and numerous companies are making efforts to help the F&B sector deal with the crisis.


1. Why do we need to change our food system?
(UN Environment Programme)
2. The secret lab making the most sustainable food in the world | Just Might Work by Freethink
3. Cosmic Queries – Predicting Earth’s Climate Future with Neil deGrasse Tyson & Kate Marvel, PhD
4. The triangular challenge of building a sustainable food system | FT Food Revolution
(Financial Times)
5. Future of Sustainable Food Systems - The environmental opportunity on your plate
6. Tech Innovation for Sustainable Food

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